I took a friend of mine to my yoga studio last week. When we walked out of the classroom, I asked him what he thought of the class.
He could barely talk. “That was the hardest thing I’ve done in the last year.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Yeah, yoga can be hard.”
Truthfully, I hadn’t found it as challenging as he did. I’d been too busy comparing myself to the girls in the room, who were all far more flexible that I was.
Then it struck me: yoga’s a lot like language learning. It never really gets easier, you just learn how to battle through the difficult parts. You become a better fighter. You accept the fact that it’s going to be difficult, and you get on with it.
I also realised that yoga not only helped me get in shape. It made me a better language learner.
Here’s what I’ve learned about language learning from yoga (plus how you can apply these lessons):
Yoga Lesson 1: Habits Matter (as Much as Goals)
When I first started yoga I couldn’t come close to touching my toes. I could barely touch my shins. As I write this, after doing yoga for a year, I still can’t sit cross legged, my downward dog is horrible, and I almost have panic attacks in the middle of class.
But I still keep going back and I love it.
Because I’ve developed the habit. If I stop doing yoga, I’m only gonna get worse. Just like language learning: the more you put in, the more you get out. The more I stretch and the more I push myself, the faster I feel my body improving and the better I feel.
The more I practise yoga, the more I realise how important it is to keep practising yoga, on a frequent basis.
It’s not how good I am that matters. It’s the habit that matters.
Habits are a massive help when it comes to language learning. The more you practise, study vocabulary, and the more you dedicate time to it, the better you’re gonna get and the more confident you’ll be as a result.
This sounds obvious, so I’ll try phrasing it the other way. When you stop studying, you’ll start forgetting. By building a habit of studying, you’ll see great progress over time.
I once took a week off yoga. When I returned to the mat, every pose was more challenging than I remembered. I could tell that I had forgotten some of the poses. The poses that I used to do comfortably now made me want to cry. I felt horrible. Language learning works the same way: if you take a long break, you’ll start to forget and you’ll lose confidence. That’s why having an accountability group helps.
There are no shortcuts, no brain implants, and no magic pills. There’s no secret. You just have to do it, day after day. You just have to build the habit.
Yoga Lesson 2: Appreciate the Journey
Nothing worth having ever comes easy. Being able to speak a foreign language is definitely a skill worth having.
There’s a simple rule in yoga: when you’re struggling, focus on your breath. This brings you out of your thoughts (“this is so difficult!”) and into the present moment.
Practising yoga has helped me realise that it’s important to take deep breaths. Focusing on my breath brings me into the present and helps me enjoy the journey. When I do this, everything else falls into place.
When I let my mind worry about the past or the future, it’s easy for me to get overwhelmed and worried. But when I take it one day at a time or even one breath a time, I’m reminded to enjoy the journey and trust the process.
As a language learner, you’ll hit rough patches. You’ll forget words, mispronounce words, and forget to conjugate. But that’s okay. It’s okay if you have to stop and take a few deep breaths every once in awhile.
Some days will be better than others. Sometimes you’ll struggle more, but at the end of the day, all you gotta worry about is enjoying whatever step you are currently on. If you can do that, after a while you’ll be surprised at the outcome.
Yoga Lesson 3: Comparing Yourself to Others is Silly
When I was just starting out with yoga, I thought the other members in the class were missing bones. I could NOT believe how flexible they were.
Then I realised: Everyone comes from different backgrounds with different experience and different levels of flexibility. Some people have been practising yoga for years. Others, days.
The more I went to yoga, the more I realised that comparing myself to others isn’t good for my confidence. Unless you’re extremely flexible, you’d probably experience something similar in a yoga class.
The same is true of language learning.
The only person you should compare yourself with is the person you were yesterday. Once you do this, you’ll realise that you’re making progress and you’re getting better.
Even so, it can be frustrating when you see someone who’s really good at speaking another language (or at yoga stretches). And it’s intimidating, especially you want so badly to be where they are. You know it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to get there.
Comparing yourself to others doesn’t help.
I’ll say it again: the only person you should compare yourself with is the person you were yesterday.
Yoga Lesson 4: The Real Work Happens Outside the Classroom
Having a teacher and going to a class is an important part of yoga practice. It can also be a key piece in the language learning puzzle.
But it is that. Just one piece.
While teachers can show you the way, they can’t do it for you. My yoga teacher still doesn’t understand why I can’t touch my toes, but it’s not her fault, it’s mine. I have to stretch more.
Here’s how I see it. Having a teacher gives you a runway to go and practise on your own.
What are you going to do with that runway? Use it to launch your daily language learning habit, or just visit it once a week?
If you really want to see results, you have to practise in your own time.
What Inspires Your Language Learning?
Yoga inspires me to learn a language. And practising yoga has taught me life lessons that I apply to language learning. Maybe there’s not a big difference between stretching your body and stretching your mind.
What life lessons do you use in your language learning?